‘Preppy Murder’ doc reveals how Jennifer Levin’s brutal death was overshadowed by victim-blaming

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Peter Davis can still vividly recall the night before his friend Jennifer Levin was murdered.

“We went out dancing,” he told Fox News. “We were laughing the whole time. We also had a lot of inside jokes. There was this dog food called Snausages. That became our word for 'cool.' It doesn’t make sense unless you were there and a silly teenager. I just remember her laughing and being quick-witted. I always think of that night. It’s burned in my memory.”

The 18-year-old’s shocking slaying is the subject of a new docuseries airing on AMC and SundanceTV titled “The Preppy Murder: Death in Central Park.” It features interviews with Levin’s family and loved ones and those who knew her killer. It also features an interview with prosecutor Linda Fairstein, among others.

On Aug. 26, 1986, Levin was strangled by Robert Chambers in New York City’s Central Park after the acquaintances had left local bar Dorrian’s Red Hand, Fortune reported. The teen’s partially unclothed body was discovered by a cyclist. After Chambers, 19, was tracked down by police, he claimed he strangled Levin during rough sex gone wrong. Chambers would go on to earn the moniker “Preppy Killer” for his seemingly all-American good looks.

The case inspired the 1989 TV movie “The Preppie Murder” with William Baldwin as Chambers and Lara Flynn Boyle as Levin. It also influenced multiple episodes of the “Law & Order” franchise, Mike Doyle’s character in the HBO series “Oz,” as well as Illeana Douglas’ character in the Martin Scorsese film “Cape Fear," ETOnline added.

“I knew him,” said Davis about Chambers. “He was two grades older than we were, which in high school is a lot. You don’t really hang out. But I do remember seeing him. There was this misconception of, ‘Who goes to Central Park at night?' It was different back then. We would all hang out at the Metropolitan Museum because people’s parents were home. There were no backyards or football fields to hang out in New York. So you found public spaces.”

“People would have parties when their parents were out of town for the weekend,” Davis continued. “There would be 50 private schools packed into an apartment. I remember Robert had a reputation for robbing people. Jewelry, watches — whatever he could take. He had an ominous reputation.”

At the time, Davis said he didn’t speak to the media about his beloved friend. Not only was he mourning the horrific loss, but he was also outraged by the tabloid’s depiction of Levin. The docuseries explored how the media victim-blamed during the trial. A&E shared Chambers’ attorney, Jack T. Litman, insisted Levin had been the aggressor. Chambers alleged Levin’s death was an accident and he was merely trying to defend himself because she injured him during their liaison.

Peter Davis with Jennifer Levin during happier times.
Peter Davis with Jennifer Levin during happier times.

“I think the biggest misconception about Jennifer is that she was this wild New York kid,” Davis explained. “She moved to the city to live with her dad in SoHo from Long Island. It was really a case of being in the worst place at the worst time … She was also a very small girl physically. Like 5’1” or 5’2”. I’m 6’1” and she was a lot shorter than me. Robert’s even taller. There’s the misconception that she was this wild, tough girl who can dominate a big guy fooling around. That’s just ridiculous. If you put them next to each other, anyone would doubt that could ever happen.”

Davis also shared the media’s depiction of Levin was grossly inaccurate and far from the young woman he knew.

Jennifer Levin (right), the victim in a Central Park strangulation, is seen with two of her girlfriends, Larissa Thomson (left) and Laura Robertson in Dorrian's Red Hand Restaurant just hours before she was killed on August 26, 1986. The photo, taken by another friend, was released on February 18, 1988, during the murder trial of Robert Chambers, who is charged with Levin's murder.
Jennifer Levin (right), the victim in a Central Park strangulation, is seen with two of her girlfriends, Larissa Thomson (left) and Laura Robertson in Dorrian's Red Hand Restaurant just hours before she was killed on August 26, 1986. The photo, taken by another friend, was released on February 18, 1988, during the murder trial of Robert Chambers, who is charged with Levin's murder.

“I did know some of those people who were a bit out of control, partied and caused trouble,” he explained. “I wouldn’t put her in that category. If anything, she was kind of a nerd. She was much more responsible than most of us were. She was funny, loyal and down to earth. Jennifer was the type of friend who was always there for her friends. She had a lot of friends, but she always found a way to make you feel special. She was always there for everyone. She was also very self-deprecating about herself. She wasn’t afraid to poke fun at herself. She never did drugs or even drank that much. She was just a very regular person, unlike what the media reports said at the time.”

Davis said he was troubled by the stark differences between the way Levin and Chambers were portrayed by the press.

A stoic Robert Chambers leaving his townhouse surrounded by police and taunting crowds to begin serving time for murdering Jennifer Levin.
A stoic Robert Chambers leaving his townhouse surrounded by police and taunting crowds to begin serving time for murdering Jennifer Levin.

“… I remember the cover of New York magazine being what looked like a headshot of Robert,” he recalled. “And then the photo of Jennifer was like a postage stamp. That sums up the coverage. It was all about him … There were countless photos of him… It was as they were talking about a different person, not the Jennifer I knew. These people were writing about someone you knew so well and they were completely wrong.”

Chambers incited public outrage when a video surfaced of him twisting off a doll’s head and saying, “Oops, I think I killed her,” the New York Times reported. Chambers spent 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. According to the outlet, Chambers was cited for several violations, including drug possession, while serving his sentence. He was released in 2003 after serving the maximum term of 15 years.

Davis admitted he was eager to go away for college to find much-needed relief. However, he was still privately grieving.

“I met new people, I made new friends, but it definitely haunted me,” he said. “I never knew anyone who had died. That was my first experience with death. And I kept seeing her face everywhere I looked. I could see this 75-year-old man and then suddenly think he looked like Jennifer. I saw her everywhere for a long time. And there was a lot of denial, too. Because when you’re a teenager, you never think anything bad would happen. And it surprised me, it upset me, that [Chambers] was released and the sentence was so short.”

Jennifer Levin.
Jennifer Levin.

Chambers quickly found himself in trouble again. Just over a year after he was released, Chambers was arrested on drug charges, A&E shared. According to the outlet, there were similar offenses in 2005. Then in 2008, Chambers pleaded guilty to selling drugs and was sentenced to 19 years. Chambers is currently a prisoner at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York. However, he can taste freedom again as early as 2024.

“I don’t think he could have been stopped,” said Davis. “… Sadly, if it hadn’t been Jennifer, it would have been someone else. To me, he’s a sociopath … It just seemed like he was destined to do something horrible. He proved that when he got out of prison. You’d think if you get out of prison, you would change our life around.”

Robert Chambers, wearing a red sweater on a chilly Valentine's Day and clutching a paper bag, brushes past reporters and cameras upon his release from Auburn Correctional Facility this morning. Chambers, the so-called "Preppie Killer," served 15 years for the murder of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin in Central Park on Aug. 26, 1986.
Robert Chambers, wearing a red sweater on a chilly Valentine's Day and clutching a paper bag, brushes past reporters and cameras upon his release from Auburn Correctional Facility this morning. Chambers, the so-called "Preppie Killer," served 15 years for the murder of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin in Central Park on Aug. 26, 1986.

Davis said it was bittersweet to relive his memories with Levin. The beaded bracelet she once made for him disintegrated long ago. But he’s still determined to be by his friend’s side once more.

“I hope audiences understand Jennifer was a good girl who was excited to go to college,” he said. “… And I hope Jennifer’s family gets some peace of mind, knowing that some of her friends came forward to tell the real story.”

“The Preppy Murder: Death in Central Park’ airs Nov. 13-15 at 9 p.m. on AMC and SundanceTV.

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